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Technology and the future of the workforce

By Rebecca Christoforidis
Published April 10, 2023

“800 million jobs could be automated by 2030”

Technology has transformed the workforce and continues to advance at an unprecedented rate. Over the course of the last few years, technology has made remote work not only possible, but preferred.

We’ve gone from automation to Artificial Intelligence with barely any time in between. All of these changes are having a monumental impact on the way work is done. What does it mean for the future? Let’s take a closer look.

Automation - origins and implications

The term automation, (or it’s Greek equivalent), was coined by Homer in ancient Greece and was used to describe a self-moving chariot. Flash forward nearly 3000 and it’s described as “the creation and application of technologies to produce and deliver goods and services with limited human intervention”.

Or to put it another way, automation refers to the use of machines, robots, and software to perform tasks that were previously done by humans, including everything from manufacturing and assembly line work to data entry and customer service.

For governments facing acute worker shortages, automation offers a much needed solution.

The Stem Dilemma

There is a serious shortage of workers with STEM skills in Canada. The same is also true for the US. With the rise of automation and digital technologies, this imbalance could have serious repercussions if not addressed. The government can turn things around by taking decisive actions:

  • Increase investment in STEM education at all levels
  • Offer incentives such as tax breaks, grants and scholarships to companies that hire and train STEM workers
  • Governments can create policies that allow for the recruitment of international STEM talent to help fill the shortage of STEM workers.
  • Invest in STEM research to develop new technologies, create new jobs, and stimulate economic growth.
  • Offer flexible work arrangements that can help retain STEM workers, particularly women who may leave the workforce due to family obligations.
  • Promote lifelong learning to help STEM workers keep their skills up-to-date and adapt to changes in their fields.

Upskilling and reskilling

As technology continues to evolve and transform the way work is done, it's essential for workers to stay ahead of the curve by continually learning and developing new skills. The need to upskill (enhance existing skills) or reskill (learn new skill so prepare for a different role or industry), is of paramount importance.

With the continual advancement of technology there is a growing skills gap between the jobs that are available and the skills that workers have. A recent WEF report has projected that over 54% of current employees will require significant reskilling and upskilling. Government can prepare to meet this challenge by investing in training and development programs.

Municipalities can benefit their residents, their staff and the businesses that operate within their borders by proactively anticipating the knowledge gaps of workers and providing access to training for the jobs of tomorrow. It’s necessary if they want to stay relevant, competitive, and attractive to prospective businesses and residents.

The gig economy

Another by-product of technological advances is the rise of the “gig economy”. It has been growing rapidly in the last few years, with platforms like Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb disrupting traditional industries. In a recent McKinsey study, it now makes up 20-30% of the US workforce.

Borrowed from the music world, the term is best described as “a free market system in which temporary positions are common and organizations hire independent workers for short-term commitments”. While it provides flexibility and autonomy, it also poses challenges such as job insecurity and a lack of benefits. As more workers enter the gig economy, policymakers will need to address these challenges to ensure that workers have access to basic protections and benefits.

AI and the future of work

Artificial intelligence (AI) is poised to fundamentally transform the workforce. Using machine learning, AI can perform tasks that would normally require human intelligence, such as problem-solving, and decision-making. As AI becomes more advanced, it has the potential to automate even more jobs and create new opportunities.

However, it raises a slew of ethical and social conundrums. There is the very real concern of its impact on privacy. It raises the question of programmer bias. Then there is the impact it will have on jobs. It’s essential for law makers to develop policies and regulations to ensure that AI is managed responsibly and ethically. Governments who are proactive about doing this may be able to avoid potential pitfalls.

Automation and AI are here to stay. They may even be supplanted by technology we can’t yet fathom. They will create significant challenges for workers, businesses, and governments. By staying ahead of the curve and developing policies that promote responsible and ethical use of technology, we can create a future workforce that is more productive, innovative, and inclusive.

GHD Digital has taken this advice to heart. We continue to develop innovative digital solutions aimed at helping governments overcome some of the challenges posed by the rapid advancement of technology. If you are interested in learning more, we are happy to answer your questions.